MCAT: Seeing how subjects tie together.

One of the most difficult aspects of MCAT prep is the sheer amount of information you need to know. You have to start off knowing about chemistry, physics, psychology, and (of course) biology. Then they toss in the CARS passages, where they give you something to read and expect you to answer some pretty difficult questions.  It can be pretty intimidating, and even more so without a clear indication of where to start your prep work.
One of my top suggestions is to start with a topic of personal interest; a passion if you will.  This has several advantages.  First, You're likely already comfortable with knowing where to find articles, and might even get stuff from your friends and family (sorry Aunt Violet, that doesn't mean I want more chain mails that you haven't checked out on Snopes....)  Also, you're more likely to read about what you already find interesting.  
From this initial springboard, follow the connections.  They say that "nature abhors a vacuum."  This also applies to knowledge; it's impossible to talk about one topic without introducing other branches of knowledge. If we are all within 6 steps from Kevin Bacon (personal score = 4), then no matter where you start reading you can wind up ANYWHERE.  Don't believe me?  Hit wikipedia and try to go from Ancient Rome to Wu-Tang Clan.

This illistrates the next advantage of this approach.  Rather than treating a huge morass of information as separate, distinct disciplines you see the interconnections and context, thus increasing recall and relevance.

Personally, I love history. So for an example of how I can extend one interesting article into MCAT relevant topics, I offer this article.

The History Blog » Blog Archive » Calcified teratoma found in pelvis of Roman woman

A teratoma is the #1 guaranteed topic you will remember from pathology. It's a germ line tumor, which means it arises from reproductive tissue that actually can result in a fetus and is one of the very few potentially TOTIPOTENT tissues (it can potentially develop into all body tissues, arising from either endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm; compare to PLURIPOTENT, which is limited to one, at most two, embryonic layers). In fact, the viability of embryonic stem cells are confirmed by their ability to form teratomas in immune-deficient mice but that is a topic for another day.

Teratomas are typically benign in women, malignant in men. It is usually found as an incidentoma (found incidentally on other scans; this is much more common than you might think), but can present as lower abdominal pain (in women; I think it's because of ovarian torsion or a simple mass effect) or a typically painless testicular lump (in men). It can also cause infertility since it likes to produce hormones which screw up oogenesis and spermatogenesis.

My understanding is they are usually found later in stages in women than men (there's more room to expand), it's a large ovarian mass that when cut open is filled with glandular tissue, nervous tissue, teeth and hair. It likes to form teeth and hair for some reason. Why? For some reason (and this is gained from personal experience more than something you'll find in books), stem cell type cells like to default to a nervous tissue type when developing (we used to hit them with DMSO and they'd form a neuronal-type phenotype).

So topics covered:
math and statistics such as prevalence vs. incidence (is it worth scanning women for as part of healthcare? How about for limited cases, and if so which cases?)
development (embryonic germ layers)
reproductive system (sites of formation)
genetics of cancer formation
cell division (relating to above)
endocrinology (relating to infertility)

Related types of cancer
gestational trophoblastic disease (tumors arising from placental tissue)
- hydatidiform mole
- choriocarcinoma

Hope you find the topic interesting! Feel free to share anything cool you find out.


Michael H.

15 years of experience helping you succeed

1000+ hours
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